Ireland is globally renowned for its diaspora, but individual tales of the diaspora are not always so familiar.

Those of us who grew up Irish in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s had to contend with widespread anti-Irish prejudice, inflamed by The Troubles. An entire immigrant community (and a hard-working one at that) was conflated with the violence going on in six counties in the north-east of Ireland. This was a reactionary and reductive approach, rooted in Britain’s colonial history in Ireland, which generated real life and damaging consequences in the twentieth century.

My novel, "One Small Step," evokes the experience of what it was like to be Irish in Britain at a time when we were suspected en masse. My parents moved to England from Co Limerick in the 1950s and settled in Birmingham where work was plentiful and so were Irish immigrants. My father got a job as a bus driver, a post he held for nearly 30 years. 

The Irish were Birmingham’s largest ethnic minority at the time and so I attended school with the children of Irish parents and we all attended the same Catholic church on Sundays. We all went to the annual Irish Parade in Birmingham city center in March, too, a celebration of Ireland’s presence in Birmingham, repeated in other cities in Britain, in the United States, and wherever Irish people settled. St. Patrick’s Day was more than a commemoration of a saint. It was also a proud declaration of Irishness in foreign and not always hospitable climes. 

Our own small yet stable Irish community was blown apart on 21st November 1974 when two IRA bombs exploded in two pubs in Birmingham, killing 21 and injuring nearly 200. Birmingham turned on its Irish population. Fights broke out in workplaces; Irish workers were sent home, at risk of assault from their colleagues. Irish people were refused service in shops. Catholic churches and schools were attacked.

This is the world I write about in "One Small Step." The hero is a young boy, Danny Cronin, obsessed with moon landings, NASA’s Skylab, and science fiction. The Troubles crash down on him after the pub bombings and he is violently attacked for his Irishness. The anti-Irish backlash in Birmingham also brings family tensions to the surface and the whole of Danny’s world falls apart, leaving him with his books; with a hunger to escape; and with fury. 

"One Small Step" evokes a time and a place, a community and a conflict that continues to exist in the here and now but which stretches back to the start of British colonialism in Ireland in the mid-twelfth century. "One Small Step" is both personal and political, featuring a crisis point in The Troubles as witnessed by a child who wants nothing more than to retreat into his fantasy world and to regain his mother’s love, but she is distracted by the unexpected arrival of a Republican paramour from Northern Ireland. 

In addition to my creative work, I have also written academic articles on leadership in the Irish Republican movement in the Troubles, published in Terrorism and Political Violence, and in Small Wars and Insurgencies. My most recent novel, a psychological thriller, "The Voice Hearer," came out earlier this year. I am now at work on a further Troubles novel set in 1988, when the ballot box is beginning to have more impact than the Armalite, together with a further academic article on Leadership and Irish Republicanism. 

The Troubles had a visible epicentre in Northern Ireland but their impact spread far and wide, crossing the Irish Sea on Ireland’s east coast and The Atlantic on its west. "One Small Step" illuminates what it was like to be Irish on non-Irish soil at a time of conflict and war. All of us whose heritage derives from Ireland can understand how our history can be impossible to ignore: a nightmare from which we are still trying to awake.

*Dr Michael Flavin is an academic at King’s College London. His novels "One Small Step" and "The Voice Hearer" are both published by Vulpine Press. He is also the author of four non-fiction books. Michael holds a degree, three MAs, and two PhDs. He grew up in the Irish community in Birmingham, England. He lives in Canterbury. 

"One Small Step" is available here, and "The Voice Hearer" is available here. You can read Michael’s academic articles on leadership in the Irish Republican movement here and here